"It's not about the money," he said.
He's confident that even kids who come from broken families and poor families will do well in his school. "Give me the poor kids, and I will outperform the wealthy kids who live in the hills. And we do it," he said.
Chavis's charter school is an example of how a little innovation can create a school that can change kids' lives. You don't get innovation without competition.
To give you an idea of how competitive American schools are and how U.S. students performed compared with their European counterparts, we gave parts of an international test to some high school students in Belgium and in New Jersey.
Belgian kids cleaned the American kids' clocks, and called them "stupid."
We didn't pick smart kids to test in Europe and dumb kids in the United States. The American students attend an above-average school in New Jersey, and New Jersey's kids have test scores that are above average for America.
Lov Patel, the boy who got the highest score among the American students, told me, "I'm shocked, because it just shows how advanced they are compared to us."
The Belgian students didn't perform better because they're smarter than American students. They performed better because their schools are better. At age 10, American students take an international test and score well above the international average. But by age 15, when students from 40 countries are tested, the Americans place 25th.
American schools don't teach as well as schools in other countries because they are government monopolies, and monopolies don't have much incentive to compete. In Belgium, by contrast, the money is attached to the kids -- it's a kind of voucher system. Government funds education -- at many different kinds of schools -- but if a school can't attract students, it goes out of business.
Belgian school principal Kaat Vandensavel told us she works hard to impress parents.
She told us, "If we don't offer them what they want for their child, they won't come to our school." She constantly improves the teaching, saying, "You can't afford 10 teachers out of 160 that don't do their work, because the clients will know, and won't come to you again."
"That's normal in Western Europe," Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby told me. "If schools don't perform well, a parent would never be trapped in that school in the same way you could be trapped in the U.S."
Last week Florida's Supreme Court shut down "opportunity scholarships," Florida's small attempt at competition. Public money can't be spent on private schools, said the court, because the state constitution commands the funding only of "uniform . . . high-quality" schools. Government schools are neither uniform nor high-quality, and without competition, no new teaching plan or No Child Left Behind law will get the monopoly to serve its customers well.
The longer kids stay in American schools, the worse they do in international competition. They do worse than kids from poorer countries that spend much less money on education, ranking behind not only Belgium but also Poland, the Czech Republic and South Korea.